When the Least Qualified Are Related to You

Barreling through Waterloo: The History of Four Days, Three Armies, and Three Battles. Now on pp. 208-209, which features the antics of one of Wellington’s most inexperienced commanders, Slender Billy. Of course Slender Billy is only a nickname. Slender Billy (also sometimes called the ‘Young Frog’), was the 23-year-old Crown Prince of the newly created Kingdom of the Netherlands. Though he had no battle experience, his father, King William I, told Wellington he would only commit the Dutch Army if Slender Billy was given “high command” in Wellington’s army. Which Wellington of course did.

(Earlier, self read about how Napoleon’s siblings were each given positions like King of Spain, King of Whatever even though, to borrow the words from Immortal Ygritte in Game of Thrones, they knew nothing.)

In the afternoon of 18 June 1815, some of Slender Billy’s troops were holding on to the Chateau Hougoumont, “a great house with a walled garden” and several adjacent stone buildings. The Dutch troops were assisted by the British, who were led by a 34-year-old Scotsman, Lieutenant Colonel James MacDonnell. Sometime on 18 June, while battle raged, “Slender Billy ordered the British Guards out of Hougoumont, which he certainly was stupid enough to do, but it is almost inconceivable that MacDonell would have obeyed.”

The point is, there was a big battle fought here that raged all day. Afterwards, when Wellington was asked to identify an “MVP” to receive a special annuity for bravery at Waterloo, he chose Lieutenant-Colonel MacDonnell. And all MacDonnell did, apparently (aside from fight, of course) was close a gate.

Sometime in the afternoon of 18 June, MacDonnell realized that if he and his men did not shut the gate in the north side of the chateau, the attacking French would come pouring into the chateau’s courtyard. In fact, a couple were already IN the courtyard, having already passed through this precise gate.

So MacDonnell and an Irishman (who MacDonnell later insisted should share his annuity) closed the gate. That act turned out to be “the decisive act of the battle” — according, anyway, to Wellington.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

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